In 1985 the Royal Opera House staged film director john Schlesinger’s production of Der Rosenkavalier to mark the 25th anniversary of Sir Georg Solti’s house debut. It’s an essentially traditional production. We are in 1740s Vienna and both costumes and set are highly elaborate. The opening scene stars one of the largest beds ever seen on an opera stage. That said, it’s well put together. The chemistry between the principals is good and the nonsense at the beginning of Act 3 is deftly handled. There are a number of small touches that help set the tone too. For example, at the beginning of Act 2 fake books are being installed in the Faninal “library”.
The singing and acting is all first class. The Marschallin in Kiri Te Kanawa and I think this is one of her best roles. She’s not the mostt expressive actress but she sings beautifully and she does dignity well. Octavian is sung by Anne Howells. At first I thought she came off as a bit too feminine but I warmed to her interpretation. A very young Barbara Bonney (she’s 29 but looks much younger) is an excellent Sophie. She captures the youthful impetuosity and doubt of the character perfectly and sings with the most beautiful tone. The final trio featuring all three is quite lovely. Aage Haugland is an old fashioned, buffoonish Ochs but quite effective. Notable among the rest of the large cast are Robert Tear as Valzacchi and Jonathan Summers in a very fine cameo as Faninal. Solti, of course, conducts and produces a very beautiful but never draggy reading of the score. It’s a fine performance and it’s good that it was recorded for posterity.
The recording though is a bit problematic. It’s not bad enough to ruin the show but it could be a lot better. The cameras are in the hands of Brian Large and he’s in one of his more self indulgent moods. Worse he seems to want to own the big scenes. So, at the Presentation of the Rose it’s clear that Schlesinger is framing one of those “big picture” scenes with hussars and footmen lining staircases etc. Do we see that? Of course not. We get the camera cutting back and forth between close ups of Octavian and Sophie. In some ways the final scene is even worse. It’s staged conventionally enough with the three singers spread across the stage singing to the audience. Large can’t handle this and decides that we need fades and superpositions and cameo portrait like images of the three principals. Oddly enough Horant H. Hohlfeld does exactly the same thing in the 1994 Vienna recording. There are issues with the sound (Dolby 2.0). At times it’s a bit muddy and the balance between the orchestra and voices keeps changing. One gets used to it but it’s not ideal. The picture is typical 4:3 DVD from TV broadcast quality. There are English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese subtitles.